The death of comedian Robin Williams has reignited something of a nationwide conversation about suicide and mental health. After all, most know someone whose life has been touched or severely impacted by depression. My own wife, Jean, lost a brother to suicide and Jean herself has shared that she struggled with bouts of depression earlier in our marriage.
Here at Focus on the Family our counselors talk with severely depressed people every day. In fact, suicide-related calls have skyrocketed in the past few years.
It’s a somber subject, not the type of topic to try to understand or process with well-worn clichés or pop psychology.
Just the other day, in the aftermath of Williams’ death, popular Christian writer Ann Voskamp described it this way:
Depression is like a room engulfed in flames and you can’t breathe for the sooty smoke smothering you limp – and suicide is deciding there is no way but to jump straight out of the burning building … You don’t try to kill yourself because death is appealing – but because life is agonizing. We don’t want to die. But we can’t stand to be devoured.
But Ann is writing about the non-Christian, right? Doesn’t Christianity and the hope and love it produces somehow inoculate the believer from the ravages of depression and mental illness?
I know some Christians have made just such a claim, that it’s merely “mind over matter” or a matter of thinking more positively in the face of adversity. As the logic goes, if we simply don’t conform or cave to the patterns of this world we’ll be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
The apostle Paul’s words still ring true, but I think to try and suggest that faith in Jesus immunizes us from all the bad things of this world is a gross misapplication of Scripture. To those who are inclined to quote Romans 12, I would remind them of Paul’s reference to having “a thorn in the flesh” (Cor. 12:7). There are many times we’re faced with afflictions far beyond our desire and control.
This is because we’re not one-dimensional people, but rather creations comprised of body, mind and spirit. And ever since the fall, we’re vulnerable to attacks in all three of those areas of life. A Christian is no less susceptible to mental illness than to diabetes. Yes, God can help us overcome the plagues of this life, and that is the Good News of what we believe as Christians. It is really this simple, there is hope in Christ.
But if you or someone you love is currently struggling with depression or mental illness, we can help.
On a related note, I’m pleased to announce that Focus on the Family has partnered with Lifeway Research to study the issue of mental illness and we’ll be releasing our findings along with practical action steps in mid-September. I’ll share more with you in this space at that time. Please give us a call at 1-800-232-6459 and let us know how we can be of assistance to you and your family.
I do pray that the conversation about mental illness in the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide will call greater attention to the issue. I read just the other day that 22 military veterans take their own life every single day. Every suicide is tragic and we must not turn our backs on those who suffer with depression.
On the issue of mental illness and our Christian faith, I’m curious to hear from you. What are your thoughts? Have you struggled to reconcile the seeming dichotomy between depression and the promise of abundant life?